Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said that there is a "real risk" that if American troops are pulled out of Afghanistan, the Taliban might retake control of the country.
Quoted in a report by CBS News, he said that the US should ensure that the Afghan government is stable before bringing American forces home. There are currently 12,000 US service members stationed in Afghanistan.
"I think that the circumstances under which you bring them home matter. And I think trying to give the Afghan government the best possible shot at survival is really important for the future of Afghanistan," Gates said as quoted by CBS News. He outlined potential consequences of the Taliban retaking control of the country, particularly the reduction of women's rights.
Strict rules were imposed on women under the Taliban regime before 2001. Recently the Taliban has said it will now allow women to attend school and hold jobs.
"So the question is, can you negotiate an arrangement whereby the Taliban agrees to operate under the Afghan Constitution, becomes a part of the political process?" Gates asked.
Some senior members of the Taliban in their talks with Afghan politicians in Moscow in February called for an amendment in the Afghan Constitution. The Afghan government has said that an amendment in the Constitution is possible through legitimate channels.
When asked if the Taliban has interest in joining such a government or if it just wants to rule the country itself, Gates acknowledged that the Taliban wants to "take over Afghanistan."
"If they agree to any kind of a compromise deal, it's really up to the other Afghans at the end of the day to- to resist any moves, to get rid of those changes, to go backward, if you will," Gates continued. Gates made the remarks on Friday, just hours before the administration announced it would move $1.5 billion designated for the war in Afghanistan to build a border wall.
This comes as the US chief negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad just wrapped up the sixth round of talks with the Taliban where they made "steady but slow progress" as he described in a tweet. Khalilzad said more and faster progress is required.
"I think it's up to us after all this time to at least try and put the Afghan government in as positive a position for that contest that will come at some point as we can. But at the end of the day, you've got to admit, it's going to be up to the Afghans themselves," Gates said, as quoted by CBS News.
Gates was asked it was reasonable to compare US involvement in Afghanistan to the war in Vietnam, which ended with US withdrawal and a subsequent communist takeover of the country.
"The former US Ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, who you know well, compared this to Vietnam. He said, 'You pull out your troops, it doesn't end the war. That hands the battlefield to your adversaries.' Do you see that?" the "Face the Nation" host Margaret Brennan asked.
"I think there's a very real risk of that, yes," Gates replied.
"A repeat of Vietnam?" Brennan asked.
"Well, a repeat of the government that we have supported being unable to sustain itself," he said.